Saki Jane

one-piece wardrobe

Tilly and the Buttons – Martha Dress Hack

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

I’m back in Portland now (and have been for almost a month, time flies!), which means I’m back within a handful of miles of some really amazing fabric stores. I definitely fought past my jet lag on my first day state-side and went on a tiny fabric bender, where I found a mysterious 3 yard “remnant” of this 100% cotton tartan for $17. It’s not completely to my taste, but I was drawn to it’s old lady vibe, the ombre effect of the plaid, that it’s a yarn-dyed (which is a great, great weakness of mine), and how it’s simultaneously part Isabel Marant and part monochromatic Cher Horowitz. Plus, $17 for 3 yards! Even if it sat in my stash for 5 years, it’d eventually find good use as a table-cloth or curtains or something.

But alas, neither table cloth nor curtain was to be the fate of this tartan, because it fell into my hands right at the time of year when I think about making some slightly outrageous gown thing that I may have only a couple of opportunities to wear in my life. Thus, this maxi, backless Martha Dress Hack was born.

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

The Pattern: Martha Dress by Tilly and the Buttons
The Fabric: 3 yards 44” wide 100% Cotton Tartan from Fabric Depot, lined in a navy cotton lawn from my stash
The Size: 2
Adjustments: none
Alterations: omitted the sleeves and the neck facing, added lining, drafted a full-length half circle skirt, altered the back bodice piece to create an open back.

Holy smokes, listing out the alterations on this pattern has me feeling like I shouldn’t even be blogging about it. I know how annoyed I get when I’m reading through a pattern review and it’s been so hacked that I don’t even know what the original pattern should have looked like. If you’re like me, I’m sorry for this post, enjoy the photos, and pay more attention to the bodice shape as that’s the only Martha thing about this dress. If you’re not like me, thank god, and, well… here are the details.

The OG Martha dress is a skater-ish dress with a mock turtle neck and the option between short sleeves and slight bell-sleeves. I originally planned on including the short sleeves, as I was going for Oliver Twist era Orphan Chic (and alternatively, business-in-the-front/party-in-the-back), but I left cutting the sleeves for last since I wasn’t quite sure how to pattern-match sleeves. By the time I had the bodice cut and sewn, I realized I liked it sleeveless better, and that worked out perfectly since I definitely would not have had enough fabric to make this a maxi and have sleeves.

(By the way, this last-minute-dropping-of-the-sleeves won’t work on ALL patterns, because quite often armscyes are cut a little larger on sleeved garments to allow for movement within the sleeve. I think, because there’s so much ease in the sleeve cap, the armscye on the Martha is cut quite small, and it allowed me to just leave it sleeveless.)

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

I think the best way to describe how I altered for the open back is a picture (above). The piece on the right is the side back bodice, the piece on the left top is the center back and the bottom left is the collar. I cut the bottom off of the center back piece to create an open back, and extended the center back and collar by 1cm on both sides to allow for an overlap where the hook and eyes should live, indicated by the green marker. I also reduced the curve on the side back pieces as indicated by the red line above.

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

I nixed the 6-piece skirt that the OG Martha came with, and drafted a half-circle skirt for both the outer skirt and lining. To draft the half-circle skirt, I used BHL’s circle skirt drafter app, which took care of all the maths and just left me with cutting fabric. It’s actually a quicker sew in that I’m not having to pattern match 6 plaid skirt pieces.

I hemmed the skirt using bias tape (which is one of the only ways I feel comfortable finishing a circle skirt. If you have any tips for finishing a circle skirt, please share!).

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

I did run into a few problems while making this hack, and they might be things I go back to fix in the future. I’ve got a short list of minor regrets: I regret using a beige invisible zip instead of a navy one; I regret using “navy” bias binding to hem the outer skirt (even though it’s not visible) rather than my initial instinct of grey. But mostly, I regret not being confident about this make. I’ve been sewing for the majority of my life, but I haven’t been producing this consistently since my early twenties, and I still find myself unpicking some rookie mistakes.

For example, I somehow thought I could “bag” the lining on this sleeveless dress by sewing the right sides of the lining and outer shell together at all the seams except for the bottom one (and yes, that did include the arm holes). A little think-through could have told me that that’s physically impossible, but, of course, this is something I discovered after I had confidently pinked and notched all the arm-hole seam allowances, making it much harder to gauge where the seamlines were supposed to have lived after unpicking. In the end, after many cramped moments under the sewing machine lights, I was able to avoid hand stitching and ripping out too many seams to fix the arm-hole fiasco, but I think it might be too complicated to explain in words without a full-on tutorial.

I also didn’t interface the Center Back piece where the neckline is clasped together, which I definitely should have done in order to add support for the clasps.

I probably should have made this dress one size smaller to create a closer fit in regards to less ease, since the backlessness of the dress acts as ease as well. I also could stand to move the skirt up by a half inch or so in the back to reduce the gape of the open back. I assumed the weight of the skirt would drape the back opening against my body, but it doesn’t work like that if the skirt is resting on my waistline.

There were also moments when I’d finish sewing a part of this dress only to realize in retrospect that I wasn’t leaving enough of a seam unsewn for adding the next part of the dress. Instead of unpicking and resewing, I notched a lot more corners than I’d actually like. I’d show you what an ugly mess it is on the inside, but I’ve already sealed all of into the lining when I sewed the skirt in. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Unfortunately, I’ve found that when I lose confidence in what I’m making, I also lose enthusiasm and momentum, and what should be a very quick sew ends up dragging on and on until it turns into my own personal anxiety-induced purgatory. Sewing becomes less of a pleasure and more of a chore, leaving me muttering words like “I don’t want to be doing this” when I sit down at my sewing machine. It’s one reason why the skirt lining was unfinished when I initially wore it out for NYE and remained so until literally this morning when I convinced myself to just BTDTA (—Blog The Damn Thing Already).

I know, this blog post is half a list of complaints and half an explanation of the hacks, so I thank you all for bearing with me. I debated whether or not to pare down that list of mess-ups or hide my Negative Nancy attitude, but in the end I think it’s important to be transparent about my own skills to both myself and to my readers. I could have easily presented this as a dress that came together without a hitch, but perpetuating the illusion of perfection is not why I started this blog.

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

The good news is, if you haven’t been reading my laundry list of complaints about my own mess-ups, all you see is pictures of me in a dress that I’m altogether really happy with. Even with it’s borderline semi-formality, I think it’s wearable casually in the early summer, layered with a long-sleeve knit underneath in the fall or even a chunky sweater on top in winter. It’s a piece that I’m ultimately really happy to have in my me-made wardrobe, and it turned out significantly less unwearable than I thought it would. And I’m also pretty proud of that plaid-matching.

I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend! We’ve been snowed in here in PDX for a few days now, which means lots of stew and sewing. I’ll leave you with a gratuitous kitty shot. Cheers!

Martha Dress Hack - sakijane.com

9 Comment

  1. I adore this dress. amazing fabric and perfect for what you made, and love the contrast of the front to the ‘unexpected’ back – brilliant and it looks fantastic on you. I took great heart in your supposed ‘rookie’ mistakes as I make them from time to time although I too have been sewing a long time, and I am always surprised when I sneak in a short cut and them am surprised when it backfires! I am sure the most experienced knitters will drop stitches and its the experience part that enables you to fix it I suppose….. Really a stunning dress, what a great start to the new year!

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! I really enjoy your perspective on the ‘rookie’ mistakes— that they shouldn’t be a point of discouragement but a point of affirmation. I’m going to try to adopt this attitude, because it will definitely make these moments so much easier!

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